Category Archives: Book review

Book #8: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond when I was right around Katie’s age, and I remember I liked it a lot.  But somehow in the past 40 years, I had forgotten pretty much all of it, so it was almost like reading a brand new book.

Okay – I have to admit it – I didn’t technically read this one.  I listened to it on audiobook.  (Katie won’t let me get away with calling that reading.)  I think it counts – especially since I’ve spent so much time playing the part of audiobook for the family.  It’s a good audiobook.  It’s engaging and easy to follow – the story lends itself to the read-aloud format.  Lots of colorful interaction and drama.

The title of this story brings forth all types of interesting imagery – we might wonder if it’s a fantasy story, if the witch is real or imaginary, good or bad, the main character or a lurking menace for our protagonist.  Just by its name,  The Witch of Blackbird Pond does not immediately identify itself as a historical novel – at least not to me.  But then, I’m one who is always on the lookout for witches and spirits and things that go bump in the night, so maybe I’m not a fair judge.

At the beginning of the tale we find ourselves on board a ship in the late 17th century alongside Kit Tyler, a teenage girl who has come from Barbados, bound for the colony of Connecticut.  She is on her way to her mother’s sister and her family – people she has never met, and who don’t know that she is coming.  At her arrival Kit is faced with a whole lot of unknowns and new experiences – something that she finds out quite dramatically when she jumps into the Connecticut River to retrieve a child’s toy.  After growing up on a tropical island, swimming is as natural as walking to Kit – but icy cold water is not.  She is shocked by the sensation, and the locals are appalled by her behavior – what kind of girl is this, who is as comfortable in the water as on land?  Only witches float – everyone knows that.  And what kind of girl has no concern over getting her clothes wet?  Unimportant to a girl with trunks full of dresses; unthinkable among folks who may have no available change of clothes appropriate to the season.

So Kit makes an immediate impression on the folks in Connecticut.  And they make one on her, and she’s not sure that she likes it.  But, she has little choice – her grandfather is dead and she has nowhere else to go, unless she wants to marry a much older man who is willing to pay off her grandfather’s debts.  She’d rather take her chances embarking on a new adventure up north.  I can’t say that I blame her.

Kit learns that she is in for quite a change even before she gets off the boat.  She strikes up a friendship with a pleasant, scholarly young man, John Holbrook, but even though he is kind and does not shun her as a suspicious stranger, his reactions let her know just how deep their differences are.  She is going from a land of sunshine and palms, servants, pretty clothes and lots of leisure time, to a place of frigid winters, few luxuries and year-round hard work.  And there are other differences in store – one evening, Kit takes up a serious theological book that John is reading:

“‘Goodness!’  Kit wrinkled up her nose.  ‘Is this what you read all day long?’  She looked up to find John staring at her.

‘You can read that?’ he questioned, with the same amazement he had shown when she had proved she could swim.  ‘How did you learn to read when you say you just ran wild like a savage and never did any work?’

‘Do you call reading work?  I don’t even remember how I learned.  When it was too hot to play, Grandfather would take me into his library where it was dark and cool, and read to me out loud from his books, and later I would sit beside him and read to myself while he studied.’

‘What sort of books?’  John’s voice was incredulous.

‘Oh, history, and poetry, and plays.’

‘Plays!’

‘Yes, the plays were the best.  Wonderful ones by Dryden and Shakespeare and Otway.’

‘Your grandfather allowed a girl to read such things?’

‘The were beautiful, those plays!  Have you never read them?’

John’s pale cheeks reddened.  ‘There are no such books in Saybrook.  In Boston, perhaps.  But the proper use of reading is to improve our sinful nature, and to fill our minds with God’s holy word.'”

I’ve a feeling we’re not in Barbados any more, Kit.

Since we’re entering a story set in a Puritan community in 17th century New England, during a time period when folks were actually on the lookout for witches, we can expect a bit of commentary on religious attitudes and practices of the day.  One thing I appreciate about this book, however, is that, while the story does indeed include a witch trial, it does not portray all Puritans as strict, narrow minded and holier-than-thou.  Serious, yes.  Concerned with Godly behavior, yes.  Hard working, yes.  Ignorant, superstitious and uncharitable – a few – just like anywhere else, during any time period.

Speare shows disagreements and misunderstandings from various points of view, but also shows people who are trying hard to be fair and loving to each other, even when they don’t understand.  We see Kit settling into her new lifestyle, learning to help around the house, and even contemplating marriage to a serious young man who seems to have little to say to her, but has clearly decided he wants her as a wife.

After one of those times when others were not being so understanding about things like creative teaching methods (such as using a play to illustrate a Bible story), Kit is befriended by Hannah Tupper – a widow who is shunned by the rest of the town.  Hannah is someone on the outskirts, someone who doesn’t come to meeting on Sunday, someone suspected of being a witch.

Kit finds that Hannah has been persecuted and mistrusted because she is a Quaker, and disliked and suspected of all sorts of misdeeds simply because she keeps to herself, appears to be self-sufficient and seems content to continue as such.  Far from being bitter about her treatment by the townsfolk, Hannah is kind and generous to any who come to her.  Kit discovers that Nat Eaton, first mate on the ship that brought her from Barbados, is also a friend of Hannah’s.  Soon, Prudence, the little girl whose doll Kit saved from the cold river joins them in their visits, as Kit disobeys her Aunt and Uncle and defies Prudence’s parents and secretly teaches the girl to read and write.

As often happens, in stories and in real life, things happen, secrets are found out and explanations do not always convince the powers that be.  Kit finds herself on trial for witchcraft, accused of many impossible and downright ridiculous things, when all she did was befriend an old woman and teach a neglected and abused child how to read.

Is Kit in trouble because she went against popular opinion and the expectations of those around her?  Or is she in trouble because she did it secretly?  She was doing good things, but was also lying about it to people who cared about her.  And to defend herself, she would end up getting someone else in trouble.  And she needs someone to risk getting in trouble to get her out of it all.  It’s the type of dilemma that is not peculiar to the time of the witch trials, and it provides an educational and thought-provoking situation for young readers.

I won’t give it all away and spoil the ending for anyone – but I will assure you that the story wraps up in a positive and satisfying (yet still believable) way.  I recommend The Witch of Blackbird Pond as a novel that strikes a nice balance between history lesson and human-interest, coming-of-age story.

Particulars

Number of pages: 249

Chapters:  21

Date of publication:  1958

Story time and setting:  1687, a small town in Connecticut Colony

First line:  “On a morning in mid-April, 1687, the rigantine Dolphin left the open sea, sailed briskly across the Sound to the wide mouth of the Connecticut River and into Saybrook Harbor. ”

Main characters: Kit Tyler, 16 years old, come to live with her only family after the death of her grandfather; Aunt Rachel (her mother’s sister) and Uncle Matthew Wood; cousins Mercy and Judith; Nathaniel Eaton, first mate on the Dolphin; Hannah Tupper, neighborhood “witch”

Reading age level:  10 and up – Amazon’s recommendation is 9 and up; I think that’s a bit of a stretch, and for vocabulary and subject matter it would probably be more accessible and interesting to 11 and older.  (Typical examples of “big words” used: apprehension, provocative, unorthodox, decorum.)

Emotional/Maturity level:  While this story doesn’t deal with much that is outright disturbing or inappropriate for young kids to read about, it does dwell on a lot of grown-up issues like suspicion, gossip, courting rituals, treason – enough that even if a kid can handle the vocabulary, they may not quite know what’s going on as the story unfolds.  Part of it is awareness of the historical setting, but it’s more a sense of the day-to-day, real-world concerns of adults.  Our heroine is 16, but in this era, that places her right on the brink of marriage and adult responsibilities.

Back at it

School has started.  Katie’s summer reading is completed and I need to catch up!

Just a note to let you know that we are working out a blogging schedule so as to be more regular and predictable for all of you who are good enough to follow us.  I’ve learned to adjust my expectations for working our way through this list of 100 books together.  Clearly, I was more than a bit naive/overzealous/just plain silly when I thought we’d be able to read and review all of the books within a couple of years.

So now I realize it will be great if we can get it done by the time Katie graduates from high school – and that’s fine.  It will be a good exercise in writing and discipline and writing discipline for both of us.  We would do the reading anyway – the tricky bit is to think about it and figure out how best to share it with the world – or at least the part of the world that stops by here.

So – this week, I’ll get the author info for The Witch of Blackbird Pond up and Katie will publish her review, and we’ll be back in action.  Stay tuned!

Katie’s Take: Watsons Go to Birmingham (1963)

Watsons Go to Birmingham is a book that is written in a way that you feel like you could be in 1963.  From Kenny’s eyes it is just life, but being a thirteen year old in 2012 it was very interesting to see what things where like back then.

Joetta- Joetta is the youngest Watson’s child and doesn’t like anyone to be hurt or get in trouble.  She often cries for other people even if she doesn’t know whats wrong yet.

Kenny- Kenny is the narrator of this story.  He is an average nine year old that is easy to relate to.  He is smart and a good brother to his little sister.  He believes most things his older brother Byron says.  He doesn’t get into a lot of trouble, but there are some times that his brother has to help him out, even though usually it is the other way around.

Byron- Byron is the oldest child, but at the beginning he was probably the most immature child.  He beat people up, tricked his parents, and bought stuff with out asking his parents.  However, close to the end of the book he starts growing up and taking his responsibilities more seriously.

Momma and Dad- Momma is the regular hard working mom who loves her children and takes no pleasure in punishing them (with Joetta around she never really gets to either).  Dad is a fun dad who loves to spend time with his kids when he isn’t at work, but still works hard to provide for his family.

It a lovely book and I am sure that it will make you laugh and also see a family that loves each other no matter what situation they get into.  I would recommend this book for 8 and up because somethings move at a fast pace and it sometimes uses big words.  It would also be a great read aloud if you have a long car ride and a willing reader (like my mom).

Book #7: The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963

I was five years old in 1963.  I guess that makes me a contemporary of the youngest member of the family in this book – Joetta Watson – the little girl, whose main concern is for the well-being of all of the members of her family.  I kind of wish I had been thinking of that while I was reading.  But, quite naturally, I was drawn in by the narrator – 9-year-old Kenny – a kid who is easy to relate to.    He’s smart, sensible, has lots of reasonable questions about life in general and is a pretty good kid overall.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 was a new book for me.  In it, we have the story of a Midwestern, middle-class African-American family.  Since our narrator is kid, most of the stories focus on kid stuff – sibling battles, fun and frustrations of school, playing, fighting, observations about parents.   I wish I could have read a story like this when I was in elementary school – it would be interesting to know how I would have reacted to it, as I was growing up in my very white community in the 60s and 70s.  The family life depicted is so fun, so normal.  It would have provided a positive educational experience for me.  Of course, the author was growing up at pretty much the same time, so I had to wait for it.

As we hear about the Watson’s daily life from Kenny, we discover that the two brothers – surprise, surprise – get into lots of arguments, with big brother Byron doing his best to throw his weight around.  He strives for “cool.”  He’s well-known as a “tough guy” at school.  For a reader, Byron’s activities are fairly entertaining.  For a parent, however, they would be less so.

But through Kenny’s eyes, we see that Byron is not all bad – he’s a pain, and he can be scary – but he’s also a guy who watches out for his little brother.  He might be tough on Kenny – but nobody else gets to.  This part of his personality – though he tries to play it down – shows up well when Kenny is brought into Byron’s classroom to show the big kids how important it is to learn to read well.  Kenny is less than thrilled about this opportunity to display his talents.

The fifth-grade teacher introduces second-grade Kenny to the class, telling them he is going to read some Langston Hughes poems to them.   He suddenly realizes it’s his brother’s class and he is sure he is doomed:
“Mr. Alums might as well have tied me up to a pole and said, ‘Ready, aim, fire!'”

…..

“I didn’t even get out of the schoolyard before Byron and Buphead caught up to me.  A little crowd bunched up around us, and everyone was real excited because they knew I was about to get jacked up.

Buphead said, ‘Here that little egghead punk is.’

‘Leave the little clown alone,’  Byron said.  ‘It’s a crying shame, takin’ him around like a circus freak.’

He punched me kind of soft in the arm and said, ‘At least you oughta make ’em pay you for doin’ that mess.  If it was me they’d be comin’ out they pockets with some foldin’ money every time they took me around.’

I couldn’t believe it.  I think Byron was proud of me!

When everybody saw that Byron wasn’t going to do anything to me for being smart they all decided that they better not do anything either.  I still got called Egghead or Poindexter or Professor some of the time, but that wasn’t bad compared to what could have happened.”

Even though a tough older brother has some benefits for Kenny in the schoolyard, the Watson parents are determined not to allow Byron to continue down any slippery slope to becoming an all-out hoodlum.  They make the decision to take him to a place where his tough-guy act will not be tolerated and where a slower pace of life may hold fewer temptations –  his grandmother’s house in Alabama.

The book’s title comes from the label Momma gives the notebook she compiles with all of the details of the trip – what food they’ll need, where they’ll stop, how long it will take.  Dad makes sure the car is ready for the trip, and they head south.  Before they leave Dad has a talk with Kenny about their decision, and I love Kenny’s reaction – it is funny and honest and natural and kidlike – it’s what makes him such a good narrator.

“I loved when Dad talked to me like I was grown-up.  I didn’t really understand half the junk he was saying, but it sure did feel good to be talked to like that!

It’s times like this when someone is talking to you like you’re a grown-up that you have to be careful not to pick your nose or dig your drawers out of your butt.”

It’s something we all have to remind ourselves of from time to time, Kenny.

The Watsons know that their children are going to be exposed to many differences, good and bad, when they travel from the North to the South, but for the most part, the story stays focused on family stuff – visiting and trying to get Byron settled in.  And just when I was starting to wonder if this book was going to say anything specific about the racial tension in the South – I got my answer in no uncertain terms.

And this climactic moment had a big impact, I think especially because the author made sure the story just hummed along with normal, relatively small family dramas, making me laugh and nod my head in understanding – until something happened that made no sense to anyone.  It was very effective, because that’s the way terrible things come on us.  It’s why they’re shocking – because they intrude on all of the normal stuff that we expect to happen each day.

The violence that happened during the Civil Rights movement was distant from me growing up, and now it is history.  This book is a novel, but I think taking us along for the ride with the Watsons offers a look into real happenings in a way that should be very thought provoking for kids or parents who read it.

Particulars

Number of pages: 206

Chapters:  15

Date of publication:  1995

Story time and setting:  Let’s see – what do you suppose the setting is?  1963, Flint, Michigan and – you guessed it – Birmingham, Alabama.

First line:  “It was one of those super-duper-cold Saturdays.”

Main characters: The Watson family:  9-year-old Kenny – our narrator, a nice, smart kid; his older brother Byron, who is doing his best to live up to a 13-year-old’s reputation for being difficult; little sister Joetta (Joey) – maybe about 6 years old; Momma and Dad

Reading age level:  10 and up – Amazon’s recommendation and I think that sounds about right.  The language is ordinary and everyday, but with plenty of interesting situations and thoughts that utilize a rich vocabulary.

Emotional/Maturity level:  In general, I’d say if a kid can read this book, they’re ready for it, but it’s tough to know exactly when a kid is old enough to handle reading about cruelty or hate or senseless violence.  Most of this story is about a good family experiencing pretty normal challenges – a teen who is causing some trouble – but he could be a lot worse.  And then suddenly they have to deal with ugliness that easily could have caused tremendous hurt to their family – and did cause tremendous hurt to people nearby.  Basically, if someone is old enough to read this book, then it’s probably time for them to hear what it has to say.

Katie’s Take: All-of-a-Kind Family

Katie’s Take:

I think that we have been keeping the ball rolling pretty well this past month or so.  It kind of helps that I have been one book ahead of my mom this whole time so that we each get  a book to ourselves.  But you know I think that I will just start the talking about the book right now.

Mama- If you  had to describe Mama in five words they would be, at least for me: clever, quaint, pretty, worrisome, motherly.  Most of this words come from when she is with her five kids. She keeps the house tidy and organized.  She also makes up games for the kids to like cleaning.

Papa- Papa is a kind father who is stuck in a house full of girls and wants a son very badly, but he still loves all his little girls with all his heart.  There is really nothing more to say about Papa except he is a hard worker with a kind heart.

The Library Lady-  The new Library Lady is a sweet young lady who seems to be sad, but the girls can’t figure out why.  She helps Sarah out when she loses her library book and is always ready to talk to the girls.  Even though she isn’t Jewish she shares in some of their holidays when they invite her over to their house.

Charlie- Charlie comes to Papa’s shop occasionally and is a very close family friend.  He also gets very sad sometimes because he has lost the girl he loves because his parents didn’t approve of their marriage.  Charlie gives the girls presents almost every time he comes to visit them at their house.

Ella-  Ella is the oldest of the five children and acts like she is the oldest and in charge.  She is a good sister besides when she acts to much like a boring grown-up (as the other girls would say).

Henny- Henny is the second oldest of the five and is the most adventurous and curious.  In the book there is a time when she gets lost,  but she actually was glad because she got candy and ice cream. Mama calls her her ‘wild one’.

Sarah-  Sarah is what you would call the ‘quiet kind’.  She isn’t the most memorable of the girls.  Really the only times she stands out are when she loses her library book and when she refuses to eat her soup.

Charlotte-  Charlotte is not exactly quiet, but she doesn’t stand out from the other girls that much.  She doesn’t really like to wait to get things though.

Gertie- Gertie is the youngest and used to it being that way.  She is very protective of her position to, as we find out at the end of the book.
Gertie is at that age where you can either act like a little kid or try to act like your big sisters.  She chooses both.

I think this is a good book for people who just want to sit down and read something simple, but not a little kids’ book.  Over all a very appealing novel.

Book #5: The Graveyard Book

I’m trying to remember the last time I read a children’s book that begins with a bloody triple homicide – other than The Graveyard Book, that is.

I think of The Bad Beginning (first book of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events), which is as good as its title, and starts off with the tragic death by fire that orphans three children.   I suppose Harry Potter counts as well, what with his parents being murdered and him being permanently scarred by an evil wizard.  And of course there is plenty of death and unpleasantness in fairy tales, often resulting in children being raised by a wicked witch, or someone else who does not have their best interests at heart.  If they are more fortunate, they may be taken in by kindly fairies or jungle animals – but the baddies who have it out for them are still out there.  Thinking of such tales, I suppose it is a fine old tradition to present a child protagonist with a dark past and terrifying obstacles to overcome – with or without help from anyone else.

What is not quite so traditional is having that child protagonist being raised by a community of kindly ghosts in an old graveyard.  But why not?  If we consider Neil Gaiman’s explanation of how the idea came to him, it makes perfect sense:

“Twenty-three years ago, we lived in a little Sussex town in a tall house across the lane from a graveyard. We didn’t have a garden, and our 18-month-old son loved riding a tricycle. If he tried riding in the house he would have died because there were stairs everywhere, so every day I would take him down our precipitous stairs, and he would ride his little tricycle round and round the gravestones. As I watched him happily toddling I would think about how incredibly at home he looked. I thought that I could do something like The Jungle Book with that same equation of boy, orphaned, growing up somewhere else, but I could do it in a graveyard. I had that idea when I was 24 years old. I sat down and tried writing it and thought, ‘This is a really good idea, and this isn’t very good writing. I’m not good enough for this yet, and I will put it off until I’m better.”  (found on his website)

He evidently waited just long enough, because this book has won a good number of prizes, including the Newbery Medal (children’s lit, US), the Hugo Best Novel Prize (Sci and Fantasy) and the Carnegie Medal (children’s lit, UK).  Gaiman is the first author to win both the Newbery and Carnegie medals for the same book.  And while the Hugo occasionally goes to a children’s book, it is not the norm.

On to the story – I mentioned that it begins with a “bloody” triple homicide, but actually, the blood is the insertion of my own imagination.  Though the story begins with a knife, and the description of a situation that you’re pretty sure you don’t want to be in, Gaiman does not mention blood and murder.  He does a wonderful job of talking around things, providing us with details as a calm and impartial, but curious, observer.  Rather than describing a murder scene in gory detail, he gives us this:

“The knife had done almost everything it was brought to  that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.”  and, “He had left the woman in her bed, the man on the bedroom floor, the older child in her brightly colored bedroom, surrounded by toys and half-finished models.  That only left the little one, a baby barely a toddler, to take care of.  One more and his task would be done.”

That toddler is our main character, who was awakened by a noise, and crawled out of his crib and wandered out of the house and up the hill to a graveyard, thus escaping the fate of the rest of his family.  A kindly couple, Master and Mistress Owens, now dead some few hundred years and still a bit sad that they never had children, decide that they will give the baby a name (Nobody Owens, Bod for short) and care for him as their own.  Though they are unable to leave the graveyard, another resident, Silas, takes on the role of guardian for the boy.  Silas, we learn, is neither living nor dead, but he has the “right of abode” in the graveyard, and he can move among the living, so he has the responsibility of getting food and other supplies for his young charge.

Silas is an intriguing character, and he is never given a familiar “label” that would identify him as someone we might expect to find in a graveyard.   He is called a “solitary type” and a member of the “Honor Guard” who helps protect the “borders of things.”  Other than that, he is simply Silas (but it takes next to no time to figure out his…nature).   One of my favorite descriptions of him comes from Bod’s own thoughts:

“[Bod] wanted to embrace his guardian, to hold him and tell him that he would never desert him, but the action was unthinkable.  He could no more hug Silas than he could hold a moonbeam, not because his guardian was insubstantial, but because it would be wrong.  There were people you could hug, and then there was Silas.”

So Bod grows up in the graveyard.  It is a quiet existence, as one might expect, but he is well cared for, and he is safe.  He is given “the Freedom of the Graveyard”, so he can see and speak with those who are there, and he can do things there that other living beings would not be able to do.  As he grows, he has questions about why he is not allowed to leave the graveyard, but he is generally content.

Then he meets a girl – a living girl around his own age, who visits the graveyard with her mother.  Bod is enchanted with the idea of having such a colorful and lively friend.  Even her name is bright – Scarlett.  Scarlett is not wholly convinced that Bod is alive or real, but when did such details stop a five-year-old from making a new friend?  Before long, Scarlett and her parents move far away, but Bod never forgets her.  With this new friend, Bod learns that there is more to life than, well…death.   He becomes increasingly interested in the world beyond the graveyard and people like himself – the type that breathe.  And with this interest, he becomes increasingly willing to risk the danger of running into someone who is definitely out to get him.

While Bod is still too young to leave the graveyard, the ghosts take on the responsibility of educating him.  He learns to read and write, making good use of the gravestone names and epitaphs.  He learns from many willing teachers, whose knowledge is often somewhat out-of-date.  Bod also learns Fading, Sliding and Dreamwalking, and how to call for help in every language in the world.  And he learns manners and respect and consideration for others, regardless of whether they are alive or dead.

And his teachers are dead – we are reminded of this fact each time we are introduced to a member of the graveyard community.  As we learn a new name, we are treated to a quick parenthetical epitaph:

“Bod’s left ankle was swollen and purple.”  Doctor Trefusis (1870-1936, May He Wake to Glory) inspected it, and pronounced it merely sprained.” 

or,

“And so it went, until it was time for Grammar and Composition with Miss Letitia Borrows, Spinster of this Parish (Who Did No Harm to No Man all the Dais of Her Life.  Reader, Can You Say Lykewise?).  Bod liked Miss Borrows, and the coziness of her little crypt, and that she could all-too-easily be led off the subject.”

These ghosts do their best to prepare Bod for the future because they know that he will eventually have to leave them, and they want him to succeed.  It is from the dead and the undead that we understand that this story is about growing up, about change, about life.  It is something they no longer have, and because of that, understand the value of it.  Silas explains when Bod tries to minimize the threat of death at the hands of his enemies:

“Bod shrugged.  ‘So?’ he said.  ‘It’s only death.  I mean, all of my best friends are dead.’

‘Yes,’ Silas hesitated.  ‘They are.  And they are, for the most part, done with the world.  You are not.  You’re alive, Bod.  That means you have infinite potential.  You can do anything, make anything, dream anything.  If you change the world, the world will change.  Potential.  Once you’re dead, it’s gone.  Over.  You’ve made what you’ve made, dreamed your dream, written your name.  You may be buried here.  You may even walk.  But that potential is finished.'”

There is much I won’t go into here – the attempt to go to a regular school, the return of Scarlett, the ever-lurking threat of the man Jack who wants to finish the job he started when Bod was a baby.  Instead I will simply say that while there are a lot of ghosts in this story, it is not so much a ghost story as a coming-of-age story, a story about family.  It is about bravely facing danger, learning from mistakes, standing up for yourself, being a friend.

And while it has plenty of creepy scary parts, the tale is told with humor – not the laugh-out-loud kind (except for one scene that makes me giggle when I think of it) – the kind that comes with quiet, wry observations and scenes that demonstrate little ironies of life and death.  It is also told with deep emotion – the kind that comes with partings that are difficult but necessary, and are full of hope and joy.

Had you been around when I finished the book, you might have seen the ghost of a tear in my eye – but then again, it might have been a trick of the light.

(Click on the following for: Katie’s review, author info, illustrator info.)

Particulars

Number of pages: 307

Chapters:  8

Date of publication:  2008 (definitely the most current book we’ve read so far)

Story time and setting:  Current day (early 21st century), with references to cell phones and computers, etc.

First line:  “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”
(This sentence is the only one on the page, accompanied by an illustration of a hand holding a knife.)

Main characters: Nobody Owens (Bod), a living boy raised by ghosts; Silas, his guardian – not a ghost, but can’t be said to be “living” in the graveyard; Scarlett, a girl who visits Bod in the graveyard (and is not exactly sure he is not imaginary or a ghost himself); Master and Mistress Owens, the ghostly couple who raise Bod as their own; the man Jack – someone you do not want to meet.  ever.

Amazon.com Best Sellers rank: 3,971 (easily the highest-ranking book we have read so far)

Reading age level:  10 and up (I agree with Amazon as far as reading level; however, emotional level and ability to understand what’s going on – I would put it closer to 12 and up)

Emotional/Maturity level: While the story overall is a positive coming-of-age tale, it begins with murder and progresses to pursuit by mythical nasties who intend to finish off the main character, who is still a child.  Involvement with him puts a friend in danger as well.  And it is set in modern times among regular folks, so there is no “once upon a time” safety zone.  Vampires, werewolves, mummies and ghosts are the good guys.  Even if a child will not be creeped out by the story, it helps with understanding if they have some familiarity with the legendary undead.

Katie’s Take: The Graveyard Book

Hi I’m back.  I am writing my review first this time because I finished it before my mom (actually I am already done with the sixth book to and she hasn’t started it so she needs to hurry up on that one).  This book works more on a psychological level than any of the other books so far, which isn’t hard because we’ve only read five books so far, but still.  What I mean by that is, and I am just going to say this flat out, that in the story begins with a whole family getting murdered except the baby.  There was a a mom, a dad, a seven year old girl, and the baby who was only one year old.  A very quaint way to start a story right.  P.S. That was sarcasm nothing is quaint about a cold blooded triple homicide (unless your from a weird town where when someone was found murdered it was  as normal as someone getting a new car).  Don’t let that fool you about the rest of the book though.  The rest of the book goes on as normally as you would think.  The baby that got a way was adopted by a ghost couple who had never had children.  He lives in a graveyard, has a vampire and werewolf guardian, can walk through walls, become invisible, haunt people and walk in their dreams, and has the person who killed his family trying to track him down the whole time he is growing up.  Oh and he can talk and see ghosts.  Pretty normal life, right?  With that here are the characters.

Nobody Owens: Nobody got this name because Mrs. Owens ( the ghost who adopted him) said that he looked like nobody but himself.  He is the baby that got away that night of the murder.  As I said before as he grows up the ghosts teach him all of their ghostie tricks.  He tries to go to school and it actually started out promisingly, but turned into a disaster.  The same thing happens almost every time he walks out of the graveyard.

Scarlett: Scarlett meets Bod one day in the graveyard while she was playing along the path and her mom was on a bench reading.  They became quick friends and every day it wasn’t raining she would visit her friend and he would take her to see his ghost friends, but she thought they were imaginary.  Her parents thought that Bod was an imaginary friend that she always talked about.  She plays a part through most of the book even if you don’t get it at first.

The ghosts: All the ghosts in  the graveyard know Bod since he is the only living person that can talk to them.  They help him learn their history ( which dates back a long time) and other ghostly things.  Most of them are polite to him and humor him with stories from  their day.

Mr. Frost: Mr. Frost is a very nice man who works in the graveyard.  He is also a good friend of Scarlett and her mom. Scarlett’s mom calls him Jay (that will make sense why I said that when you finish the book).

Jack’s: The Jacks are a very interesting bunch of things.  The reason I say ‘things’ is because they aren’t people and they’ve been ‘alive’ since early Egypt.  They have many different trades which is why they are called The Jacks of All Trades.  One of there trades is murder since the biggest and baddest Jack killed Bod’s family and is trying to kill him.  P.S. They all have famous last names, remember that for later.

Silas: ‘There are people you can hug and than there is Silas’ as Bod says.  Silas is Bods guardian who brings him food and protects him from outside the graveyard.  He is neither living nor dead.  He rarely smiles or laughs.  But his heart is in the right place when it comes to Bod.  He goes away for a long periods of time and not tell any one where he was going.  He lives in a crypt.  All the bold words are hints to who he really is.  Oh, also he doesn’t have a reflection.

The Graveyard Book say that it is for ten and up, but I don’t think I would have been psychologically able to understand it until I was at least eleven and it might be a little to disturbing for a ten year old.  But once you reach that age you  should read it for sure.  If you read this review again after the book than you will get my little hints.  Please read this book.  Book 5 is for sure my favorite book so far even better than Half Magic.